Life at Boiling Point: Small Groups - Heat From Others
In the 17th Century, a Frenchman called Solomon de Caux predicted that one day everything would move by steam power. The authorities were so impressed they locked up in a Paris asylum. Undaunted, on Tuesday, September 27, 1825, George Louis Stevenson’s Locomotion No 1, became the world’s first passenger train pulling an 80 ton train between Stockton and Darlington with 38 carriages and 553 passengers at a speed of eight miles an hour. The power of water demonstrated. In 1825 there were only 25 miles of public railroad open in the world. 50 years later this had grown to 160,000 miles. In 1825 there were only 2 locomotives available for use on a public railway, by the turn of the century, this had increased to 70,000. Water heated to boiling point utilized with awesome power.
In this series called, ‘living at boiling point’ we are thinking about the power released when we live life as God intended. Last week were began by reading the love letter from Jesus to the Church in Laodicea. He laments that they were neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. He wanted them to be hot because great power is released when we are on fire for Jesus. We considered the importance of Sunday services in raising our spiritual temperature. We looked at five reasons for meeting together on Sundays. Can you remember what they were?
1. We ought to gather as the Church every week because God commands us to (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
2. Because Jesus gave us an example (Luke 4:16)
3. Because we are fired up though Fellowship (Hebrews 10:25)
4. Because we are fired up through the Word & Worship (Hebrews 12:29; Luke 24:32)
5. Because we pass on the fire by kindling the faith of the next generation - our children (Mark 10:13-16
In these ways our spiritual
temperature is raised, God’s power is released and we become, in the words
of the Fat Controller in the Thomas the Tank engine stories, “really useful engines”.
At what temperature did you leave Church last
week? 40 degrees? 60? 80? 100? How about today? What happened during the week?
If you spent some time with Jesus each day, allowing Him to speak to you through the Bible, cultivating a conversational prayer life, if you were sensitive to God’s leading in your life and in your relationships, this will have helped you from going cold. These solo spiritual practices add heat. But it’s a cold dark world out there. An inhospitable environment, hostile to God and His will.
One of the challenges every parent faces is keeping your child warm between the time he eats his breakfast and the time he walks into the school. Where is your coat? Its cold outside. You must wear your coat. Where are your gloves? You’ve lost them… where is your hat? I know you don’t like wearing a hat but you’ll get cold… ever had that kind of conversation? I do regularly. “Mum, I can take care of my self” I say, “I’m nearly 50…” It is hard to stay warm in a cold world. Its hard to remain fired up all alone.
To stay on fire for Jesus we need something more. So meeting together in Church once a week for an hour is essential but its not going to get us to boiling point or keep us there all week. Please turn with me to Acts 2:42-47 and lets see how the first Christians stayed at boiling point.
devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking
of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous
signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything
in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had
need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke
bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God
and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily
those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47).
The key sentence I want to draw out there is “Every day they continued to meet together…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” This is the first reference to Christian home groups. What did they do in their homes? Devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to eating and prayer. Using this passage as a base I want us to think about five spiritual gains that help raise our spiritual temperature when we are part of a home group.
Mutual Confession (James 5:16)
“Confess your sins to one another.“ Can you confess your sins to one another, alone? Of course not. Should you confess your sins to total strangers? Imagine being asked to turn to the person next to you (preferably a stranger) and share something intimate and personal.
If the person next to you told you “I swore at my wife on the way to church.” Or “I falsified my tax returns yesterday.” I think you’d say, “That’s more information than I needed to know thank you. I think I’ll go and sit somewhere else.” Why? Because its not psychologically healthy. It’s not socially appropriate. It’s not spiritually advisable to broadcast your failures to strangers or in a large group of people.
The Bible teaches from cover to cover that confession of sin is very, very important, but we need to do it in a smaller setting with people who know us and love us and who are mature enough to hear this and help us with it. You have to take your mask off so people who care for you know who you really are.
There is great power in a small group that is loving and caring where the members can share openly and honestly with one another. “Here’s the truth about me. I failed God this week. I violated my own conscience. I disobeyed God’s Word. Would you listen to my confession and help me?” Moments like this are incredibly powerful and generate great warmth. There is tremendous healing power in the confession of your sins to trusted people.
Occasionally I will get a call from someone who wants to share about something personal. They may not describe it as confession but that is what they are doing. They will sit in a chair opposite me. They are anxious and its clear something is building up inside of them. Then at a certain point out it comes. They’ll say something like, “I screwed up. I did this terrible thing. I did it knowingly. I did it willfully. Now there are consequences and I feel terrible about it.” As the story comes out, I’m aware of the fact that they’re looking at me to see my reaction to their confession. They're wondering how I will react. They may be afraid that I will say, “How could you do such a despicable thing?” But I don’t because I know , “there but for the grace of God go I.” I will not lessen the seriousness of what they have done. But I remind them of God’s promise in 1 John 1:8-10.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
When I hear someone’s confession and I know it’s real, I remind them that they too can be forgiven. It is a powerful moment. On the cross Jesus said as he died, ‘It’s finished. It’s done. It’s paid for.’ Therefore we should live different knowing we have been forgiven so much. Maybe you are in that situation today. If you need to confess your sin, confess it. If there is any restitution to make, make it. If there is bridge building needed, build it. The Bible says we all need to be doing this. We all need to confess our failures to one another in a safe environment where we can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served and celebrate and be celebrated. Not in a large group like this, and not on your own. You should be a part of a little circle of fellowship, if for no other reason because you’re going to screw up someday, and you’re going to need a safe little circle to make a confession in. It generates great warmth when we can be honest with one another, when we can be vulnerable with one another in a close circle of Christian sisters and brothers.
2. Personalised Guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6)
The second spiritual gain that can only be made in a small group is personalised guidance from God. On my Christmas wish- list is a little handheld GPS, Global Positioning System. You type in a location, and it will guide you every step of the way to your destination. It will give you customized guidance. Last summer we hired a car in the US. It was a cadallac. A little bigger than I was used to but it was $1.50 a day extra than the car I’d booked which they didn’t have… That was my excuse. “Go large” they say so I did. But the best thing about the car was a little device called North Star. At the press of a button, a really polite ladies voice appeared asking me where I needed to get to. With great patience she located me on her computer and guided me road by road to my destination. Let’s look at a famous guidance verse Proverbs 3:5-6. Let’s read it together.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
How does God direct our path? We get generalized guidance from reading the Bible or from listening to a sermon. When the Bible is taught, God speaks and we receive general guidance on how to live your life. When you do your private spiritual practices, God may prompt you and provide more personalized guidance, but how do you know its from God and not your hormones? You know what almost all of us want? We want guidance that can come through someone with skin on them. We want guidance that’s customized and tailored for our situation, our decision, our crossroad. And you won’t get that from a stranger. You only get that from Godly people who know you and love you, who are mature and who can help apply God’s word to your life in a personalized way.
The translation of Proverbs 11:14 in The Message reads, “The more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” What it says there is that when you come to a crossroads go to a little group. Go to the little group that knows you and loves you and prays for you, and ask people in the group what they would say about the decision you have to make. It will help you. God will give specific custom-made guidance through the words and the thoughts of people who know you well and love you.
I find it really hard when people that I’ve never met or I don’t know well ask me to speak into their lives in a very specific way. “I think God’s guiding me to change careers. Should I do it?” “I think God is guiding me to tell our 22-year-old son to move out of the house and get a job. Should I move him out?” “My wife and I are thinking about separating. What do you think?” These are very uncomfortable moments for me.
You are taking a great risk when you seek advice from someone who doesn’t know you well. When people I don’t know come to me for advice I can refer them to scripture and to the general principles of God’s word but for specific guidance I usually refer them to someone they know or someone who can take the time to get to know them, to put their need in context. That’s the role of a home group. Somewhere safe you can go and say, “You know me. You know that sometimes I take too many risks. You know sometimes I get stubborn and don’t want to change. You know my ups and downs, my dirty laundry. You know me. What do you think about this issue I’m facing? Speak into my life because you know me.” You’re only going to get that in a small group where you can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served. (Summarise)
3. Specific Application (James 1:23)
Let’s read this passage from James together. “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a person who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23)
On the way out of a service recently someone nearly took my head off. They misunderstood something in the news sheet and thought I was too pro-American. Maybe I am. The point of the sermon, however, about why Jesus came to die in our place was completely out of the window. That we had just confessed our sins and knelt around the Lord’s table was a distant memory. Do you know what that person really needed? A mirror.
They desperately needed someone who knows them to apply God’s Word to their situation. You don’t get a mirror in a large group. You don’t get a mirror when you’re on your own. You get a mirror when you’re in a little circle and you say to each other, “Let’s not just be hearers of the Word but doers.” If we were in a little group right now, we could be discussing what you get out of these passages we are looking at. We could be applying this to each other and saying, “Hey are you really committed to be in church every weekend? Are you applying this teaching? Are you doing spiritual practices or are you just blowing smoke about it? Are you trying to spend an ordinary day with Jesus? How are they working for you?
That is one good reason for tying in the small group study material to the Sunday teaching programme. My own small group is the Saturday morning men’s Bible study. We used to spend an hour studying a passage of scripture, and dead on 9:00am we’d pray and go home. We got a little dissatisfied with that. Now we finish at 8:45am and spend 15 minutes trying to apply the passage to our lives. And we sometimes stick around afterwards to do some practical stuff together. You only get that in a little group, and you need it and I need it, which leads me right into the next spiritual gain that only gets made in a small group.
4. Close Accountability (Proverbs 17:17)
When I step on my scales in the morning, it holds me accountable. It gives me honest feedback for what’s going on in my nutrition and exercise patterns. It doesn’t lie to you unless you mess with the calibration. Its OK we can be honest with each other… I have a friend who’s been fighting fitness and nutrition issues pretty much his whole life. And he told me recently he’s all excited because he finally took the step of hiring a personal trainer. He raved about all the progress he’s making now because he’s paying this trainer, and he has kind of a system with his workout. I thought, “Wait a minute. He’s paying someone to watch him lift weights.” I could see paying someone to lift weights for me, but to pay someone to watch me lift weights? Then I realized, actually what he’s doing is a pretty smart thing. He’s just paying someone to hold him accountable. What is accountability really? Strip it down. Accountability is inviting someone to help me do what I really want to do, and I can’t do myself. My aim is to work out in the gym twice a week. Sounds impressive doesn’t it. Except that if I leave it to myself I make it once a fortnight. But if I agree to meet you there, we hold each other accountable.
Accountability is inviting someone to help me do what my heart yearns to do, but I’m not somehow able to get it done alone. Proverbs 17:17 says ”A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17). About five years ago a friend became a brother when he shared something really personal. He had a problem with pornography at work. He would use the internet to download it onto his work computer. He wanted me to hold him accountable. One of the steps we agreed was that he would remove the internet connection from his office computer and he invited me to ask him occasionally but regularly how he was doing. He wanted someone to hold him accountable. It worked. Here are a couple of rules for accountability: It should be invited. You are not a self-appointed referee holding other’s accountable without it being reciprocal. You invite people to hold you accountable. Those of us who have been invited to hold others accountable, we need to have growth as the goal and not snooping. Accountability needs to be textured with encouragement for when it is, it’s powerful.
5. Unconditional Love (John 13:1-5)
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-5)
can be in Church every Sunday 3 times. You can get on your knees every day and
pray and do solitude and the spiritual disciplines and still be love-starved.
When you’re in a little group that’s loving and affirming and encouraging
and all that, that’s the primary way love needs get met in the kingdom,
is in a little circle.
Brennan Manning has written a new book called “A Glimpse of Jesus.” He makes the point that the most radical manifestation of the love of Jesus Christ happened in smaller settings, mostly around dining room tables. He calls it “the power of meal-sharing.” He said Jesus spent an inordinate number of dinners breaking bread with people, listening to their stories, listening to their foul-ups and their brokenness and their sin. As the dinner would end, he would say, “I still love you. There’s a bright future for you. We can handle this together. We can sort this out.” Brennan Manning makes the interesting observation that Jesus was falsely accused by his detractors as being a glutton and a drunkard. Obviously, it wasn’t true. But Jesus did get invitations to a lot of meals and he usually accepted. It is often in small groups that we see Jesus demonstrating radical love for individuals. When Jesus taught multitudes of people, he couldn’t express radical love to individuals very easily. When he was alone he couldn’t, but around the dining room table it was possible.
And that is where you too are going to get filled up with love. There are five gains you can only make if you’re in a little circle of friends: mutual confession of sin, personalized guidance, specific application of God’s Word, close accountability and unconditional love.
Five ways in which a small group can help you stay on fire for Jesus between Sundays.
want to close by sharing the story of how a small group of ten men meeting around
God’s word for just 18 months turned an alcoholic into a person of integrity.
Its taken from Newsweek
”As a west Texan, Evans did what came naturally in a storm: he joined a nondenominational Bible-study group. He coaxed his friend George to come along. The program was called Community Bible Study—started, ironically, in the Washington, D.C., area in 1975 by a group of suburban women. By the time it got to Midland, it was a scriptural boot camp: an intensive, yearlong study of a single book of the New Testament, each week a new chapter, with detailed reading and discussion in a group of 10 men. For two years Bush and Evans and their partners read the clear writings of the Gentile physician Luke—Acts and then his Gospel. Two themes stood out, one spiritual, one more political: Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, and the founding of the church. Bush, who cares little for the abstract and a great deal for people, responded to the conversion story. He liked the idea of knowing Jesus as a friend.
The CBS program was a turning point for the future president in several ways. It gave him, for the first time, an intellectual focus. Here was the product of elite secular education—Andover, Yale and Harvard—who, for the first time, was reading a book line by line with rapt attention. And it was ... the Bible. In that sense, Bush is a more unalloyed product of the Bible belt than his friends, who may have deeply studied something else in earlier days. A jogger and marathoner for years, Bush found in Bible study an equivalent mental and spiritual discipline, which he would soon need to steel himself for his main challenge in life to that point: to quit drinking.
Bush says he never considered himself to be an alcoholic, and never attended an AA meeting. But it turned out he didn’t have to. CBS was something akin to the same thing, part of what has since come to be called the “small group” faith movement. It’s a baby-boomerish mix of self-help, self-discipline, group therapy (without using what, for Bush, is a dreaded word) and worship. Whatever, it worked. As the world knows, Bush did quit drinking in the summer of 1986, after his and Evans’s 40th birthday. “It was ‘goodbye Jack Daniels, hello Jesus’.” For the rest of the Newsweek article on George Bush visit http://www.msnbc.com/news/878520.asp